Wednesday, July 27, 2022

World View: Sierra Leone (2000)

From the June 2000 issue of the Socialist Standard
(We publish below an email we received on 9 May from a political party in Sierra Leone (the SPSL—Socialist Party of Sierra Leone—with which we have some contact) and which provides some first-hand information on what has been happening there.)
I am afraid we have lost a comrade, Abu Koroma. He died early this morning as a result of multiple wounds sustained during a peace demonstration we had yesterday with all other political parties and civic organizations. Two other members, comrades Nim Dixon and Opah Thomas are still recovering. Dixons case is a bit serious and all is being done to save their lives. British forces are here and I saw them around the beach taking position today. They are only providing security for the diplomatic and wealthy areas, we the poors are left to the mercy of the rebels. There is still lots of shooting going on in the city and no one seems able to stop it. We have locked the office and we have removed all our little belongings for safe-keeping around the beach, to be exact at Cape Sierra hotel.
Hope to keep in touch if there is power and if I can get to a computer.

Army shoots schoolkids in Gambia
(A correspondent in West Africa writes about an incident in Gambia in April during which at least 16 school students were shot down by the security forces and which went virtually unreported in the press.)
Perhaps, for a country considered to be the Lilliputian of sub-Sahara Africa, Gambia was the most unlikely place for such mayhem to have occurred. Commentators had concluded that, with the military coup in Ivory coast, the last haven of Africa had lost its decorum. In the words of Achebe, the Nigerian writer, things had fallen apart and the centre could no longer hold.

Gambia, the lowest spot in West Africa, almost below sea level, had until now seen itself as the haven of peace in Africa. For decades it has used as its national slogan “Gambia No Problem”, meaning the land and its people were at peace with one another.

In Gambia today questions are piling up as to why the darling of peace let go its steam almost without notice. On the morning of 10 April students called attention to the years or decades of wrongs handed out to them by the capitalist system. Two pivotal events highlighted their case: the rape of a female student by a paramilitary officer during the inter-school athletics meet at the National Stadium and the broad-day killing of a schoolboy by six fire service officers.

In the opinion of the students, there was something seriously faulty with a system that allows a security officer to openly rape a student and proudly walk away dusting his uniform. But then, they said, a system is morally moronic that allows a teacher to go beyond the confines of his school in reporting a male student to the fire service and not to the school principal.

Six fire service officers then took it upon themselves to punish the boy by first physically assaulting him, then they made him carry bags of cement for long periods. As a result of the brutal punishment the boy was pronounced dead upon arrival at the hospital. The students demanded justice, and then came the pathologist’s long-awaited report, “the boy died from natural causes”. For the aggrieved students that was not only a miscarriage of justice, it was equally a denial of justice. The writing was on the wall; everyone saw it except the capitalist masters who thought a show of strength would be sufficient to calm the protesting students.

The authorities got their calculations woefully wrong. By 8 am the students had stamped their willingness to protest and their loss of confidence in a system that reduced them to anything but human. The Head of State was in Cuba attending the Group of 77’s summit hosted by Fidel Castro. The protest started peacefully with students chanting their displeasure, carrying placards and banners.

The security operatives went into full gear by firing tear gas and rubber bullets. Instead of dispersing the students, this hardened their resolve to defend and die for what they believed in. The security forces were rudely awakened from their nest of slumber. More troops were brought to beef up their strength, they used live ammunition to shoot students, they beat them and molested female students. But amidst the armament employed against them the students stood their ground.

They went on the rampage, burned down four police stations; they caused physical harm to public and private properties including transportation, telephone outlets, stores and shops. What actually baffled the custodians of the capitalist system was how unarmed students were able to withstand the firepower of the security forces and still wreak such destruction–unique in the country’s history–to property.

The message was clear, from Beijing, Berlin, to Seattle, to Banjul, the days of the totalitarian era are over. Man cannot rule man against his will. The breeze of change was blowing across the face of Gambia and it was high time its capitalist leaders took note.

Unfortunately, and as expected, afterwards came the time for the capitalist leaders to apportion blame. The opposition came in for a blasting, they had “instigated and motivated” the students to demonstrate in an effort to bring the government down. But did the students have to demonstrate, did 16 of their colleagues–according to a government estimate–have to die with dozens wounded in all shape and form? Was it politically motivated or were the students only trying to vent their frustration with a rotten system?

To better understand the dynamics of everyone collaborating in the death of those students, it needs to be appreciated that, irrespective of where it occurs, the lords of capitalism are never at ease with themselves when the working masses venture or attempt to take their destiny into their own hands. Every and all effort will be exhausted to muzzle and nip it in the bud.

The problem was a Gambian one, but has a universal appeal. Masters are uneasy when servants are awake.

Daniel Wah

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